When I was little, I hated cartwheels. I was tall and kind of lanky, and flipping myself upside down and sending my feet up over my head seemed pretty scary – the ground was just too far away!
No. I have not mastered the cartwheel, but I have gained an appreciation for flipping myself upside down. And for me, the key is feeling rooted in the ground beneath me. Camatkarasana (wild thing) helps me to find uplift by really keying into the ground underneath. I can press into my feet to lift my hips higher, open my heart wider, and expand. The full expression of this pose is a fabulous duality of being firmly rooted while also buoyant and expansive.
But, truth be told, when I first saw a yoga teacher effortlessly sweep her leg into the sky and then twist and contort her body and miraculously land inverted on the other side, I wanted to rule the pose out. I thought I’d get tangled, twisted, and mostly I was scared I’d fall.
And like it had a hundred times before, this mini lesson I was learning on my mat made me think about the same patterns I exhibited off of my mat. What was I scared to do or try because I was scared I’d fall? The list was long, quite long.
And honestly, I didn’t try wild thing right away either. In fact, it wasn’t until I watched another teacher practice it and for the first time saw how steady and solid her feet were on her mat before she pressed up into the full expression. It wasn’t necessarily all about that sky-high leg flipping up and around so much as it was about her feet on the ground. So I gave myself a chance to tick off one item from that long list of “things I was too scared to do.” As I transitioned in the pose, I thought less about what was happening up top and focused on feeling my hands and feet on my mat below. And maybe contrary to what I’d ever imagined, with my feet planted, I could soar.
Camatkarasana is a great pose to give you energy and invigoration. It builds strength, opens the heart, and stretches the hip flexors. And for me, the magic of the pose comes from opening your heart wide into a sense of play and fearlessness. So, even though I’m still not quite ready for that cursed cartwheel, I can achieve a feeling of wonder and even a little courage as I flip myself upside down (because my feet are still firmly planted on the ground).
This is one of my favorite poses. What’s yours?? Share, and maybe you’ll see it appear in class soon 😉
How to do Wild Thing and Variations
- Begin in Downward Facing Dog. On an inhale begin to lift your right leg toward the sky, rooting down firmly through your left foot (standing leg).
- Start to stack your right hip on top of your left. Again, tune into the grounding and energy of that standing leg to help you leverage the top hip up and over. Bend your top knee. This pose is commonly called three-legged dog.
- At this point, assess how you feel. If this feels like an edge, then perhaps you work three-legged dog for a few more breaths, before releasing. If you’re feeling ready to flip, then keep rotating that top hip up and over.
- As you first practice this, you might find that your top foot, when it meets the floor, isn’t in a very stable place. Before pressing up, just make sure you have a solid base. Perhaps you’ll need to walk your foot in closer to hip-width.
- Then, the real key to finding uplift in Wild Thing is to get grounded. Transition the real weight of the pose into your feet and legs. I like to shift toward my legs, bending into the knees and pressing my feet firmly into the ground. Then, let the strength of your legs press you up, aiming the hips toward the sky.
- Concentrate on the lift you experience from rooting into your mat. ** though the shoulder does work in this pose, it is not meant to take the bulk of your weight, so if you find yourself leaning heavily into the shoulder, reassess.
How to Modify
- If flipping your dog seems a bit much, another approach with all of the same benefits is to move from seated.
- Begin seated with your left leg extended in front of you and your right knee bent, sole of right foot on the floor.
- Place your left hand a few inches behind your left hip and drape your right arm over your right knee.
- Initiate the movement by shifting your hips toward your feet. Just as above, the intention here is to send the emphasis of the pose into the strong muscles of the legs, rather than dumping into the more delicate shoulder joint.
- On an inhale, press strongly through both feet, activate the muscles of your legs, and press your hips high, sweeping your right arm up, and opening the heart.
- On an exhale, gently lower the hips. Repeat 3-5 times (one breath to one movement, on your last repetition, hold for a few breaths, and then lower)
Another version – Rockstar!
- Begin in dog. Inhale the right leg high, then squeezing your navel to spine and coiling the low belly draw your knee in toward your chest.
- Hover and with the knee drawn in begin to extend your leg toward the left.
- Place the pinkie toe edge of your foot on the ground. When you feel you have stability in both feet, press into the ground, lifting your hips and opening your left arm.
- Repeat on the left side.